UPI Feature

"I Have a Dream" 50th Anniversary: The 25 greatest speeches in American history

On the annivesary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s seminal speech, we look back at some of the most important moments in spoken American history. While it is almost impossible to objectively quantify the "importance" of a speech, we have tried to compile a list of events where the personality of the speaker, the circumstances of the time and the language of their address came together to create a moment that stands the test of time.

1. Martin Luther King: "I Have a Dream" 

Washington, D.C. -- August 28, 1968

As one of the most recognized speeches in American history turns 50, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous words feel as important in 2013 as they did in the thick of the fight for civil rights in 1968.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, culminating in King's speech, was delivered 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, leading King to note how far the fight against racism had come in the United States -- and how far it had yet still to go. More than 250,000 people walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, crowding onto the National Mall to hear a slate of speakers, including future Rep. John Lewis.

Interestingly, the most famous part of the speech was not included in King's prepared remarks. While King had previously spoken about "the dream," it was only after singer Mahalia Jackson shouted up to him from the crowd, to "Tell them about the dream, Martin." Thus, some of the most moving, most important words in American history came to be spoken. 

Post compiled by Gabrielle Levy, contributions from Rafael Bernal, Jade Vowles and Caroline Lee.
Join the conversation